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2012 NFC draft grades: Defensive-minded Eagles, Packers earn high marks

Jason Cole
Yahoo Sports

More: 2012 AFC draft grades

After watching the Saints, Packers, Lions and even the Giants light up scoreboards with big passing numbers last season, the emphasis of the 2012 NFL draft by NFC teams was pretty obvious: Either get guys who can defend the pass (Morris Claiborne, Mark Barron and Harrison Smith) or guys who can get to the passer (Fletcher Cox, Bruce Irvin and Shea McClellin). Of course, there were some teams that looked to build their passing attacks, such as Washington with Robert Griffin III, Arizona with Michael Floyd and San Francisco with A.J. Jenkins.

One way or another, this draft was about the forward pass.

Here's an early assessment of how the NFC teams fared:

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys
Picks: CB Morris Claiborne, DE Tyrone Crawford, OLB Kyle Wilber, DB Matt Johnson, WR Danny Coale, TE James Hanna, LB Caleb McSurdy
Grade: B

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Morris Claiborne (AP)

Analysis: Give the Cowboys credit for being aggressive by going for one of the draft's premier players. While most people thought the Cowboys were dead set on taking SS Mark Barron, they opted to nab Claiborne by going from No. 14 to No. 6. That was a costly deal and means that Dallas has now invested heavily in two cornerbacks this offseason (they signed free agent Brandon Carr to a five-year, $50.1 million deal). But that's not necessarily a bad thing in a conference where you have to defend prolific receivers such as Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Marques Colston and Victor Cruz. Crawford was a fine value pick and the Cowboys are hoping Wilber will step in for Anthony Spencer in a year. Good luck with that.

New York Giants
Picks: RB David Wilson, WR Rueben Randle, CB Jayron Hosley, TE Adrien Robinson, OT Brandon Mosley, OT Matt McCants, DT Markus Kuhn
Grade: C+
Analysis: The Giants do business in a very straight-forward and steady fashion, and this draft was no different. They filled a big need in the first round by getting Wilson, who will take over for Brandon Jacobs and possibly replace Ahmad Bradshaw in a year or two if all goes according to plan. Randle is not a polished receiver, but he is extremely gifted and is typical of the type of player the Giants take at that position. As with guys like Victor Cruz and the departed Mario Manningham, receivers with raw skill tend to improve drastically with the Giants. Hosley is slotted to take Aaron Ross' spot.

[ Jason Cole: NFL draft winners/losers: Washington Redskins qualify as both ]

Philadelphia Eagles
Picks: DE Fletcher Cox, ILB Mychal Kendricks, DE Vinny Curry, QB Nick Foles, CB Brandon Boykin, OT Dennis Kelly, WR Marvin McNutt, G Brandon Washington, RB Bryce Brown
Grade: A-
Analysis: The Eagles made a wise trade to move up from No. 15 to No. 12 to nab Cox, one of the more versatile defensive linemen in the draft and a guy who automatically improves the run defense. Kendricks and Curry were taken with the same mission in mind after the Eagles defense was basically a running gag throughout the 2011 season. After dealing with those needs, the Eagles then picked up a pair of great values in Foles and Boykin. Foles has all the physical tools to be a terrific player and is going to a coach in Andy Reid who can harness those gifts. Foles should be ready to either take over for Michael Vick when Vick is done or be a good piece of trade bait in the future. Like Foles, Boykin has a lot of tools at a premium position.

Washington Redskins
Picks: Robert Griffin III, G Josh LeRibeus, QB Kirk Cousins, OLB Keenan Robinson, G Adam Gettis, RB Alfred Morris, OT Tom Compton, DB Richard Crawford, DB Jordan Bernstine
Grade: B-
Analysis: Give the Redskins all the credit in the world for an aggressive, decisive trade to get Griffin, an electric athlete with all the mental tools to take advantage of his physical skills. Yeah, the Redskins paid a heavy price, but so did the Giants in 2004 when they acquired the rights to Eli Manning and New York isn't exactly crying about that these days. However, the decision to take Cousins is really odd. Yeah, quarterbacks are valuable and all, but you normally want to stagger when you take them. Taking two in the same year is really confusing and a poor use of a precious resource for a team that traded away so many to get Griffin. If you're Cousins, how do you go into this situation thinking that you have a real future to play?

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears
Picks: OLB Shea McClellin, WR Alshon Jeffery, FS Brandon Hardin, TE Evan Rodriguez, CB Isaiah Frey, CB Greg McCoy
Grade: C

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Shea McClellin (AP)

Analysis: McClellin is a solid player, but a bit of a reach at No. 19 overall. He doesn't really fit into how the Bears like to play their linebackers. He's more of an edge player who keeps defenses honest with his pass-rush ability. However, he's also too light to put at defensive end on a regular basis, so it's unclear how exactly the Bears best plan to use him. Jeffery was once considered a potential first-round pick, but that was before most personnel people realized he wasn't that fast and really only runs two decent routes. He can be effective as a red-zone receiver, but the Bears already have a guy like that with Brandon Marshall. They could have used some speed. Hardin and Rodriguez are both decent but limited athletes.

Detroit Lions
Picks: OT Riley Reiff, WR Ryan Broyles, CB Dwight Bentley, OLB Ronnell Lewis, OLB Tahir Whitehead, CB Chris Greenwood, DB Jonte Green, OLB Travis Lewis
Grade: C
Analysis: The Lions are banking on Reiff, once a guard, to play offensive tackle and a left tackle at that. The wish is that he can eventually take the spot of veteran Jeff Backus, but there are plenty of people who think that's a stretch. In fact, he might end up as an oversized left guard, sort of like Robert Gallery. Then again, with the attack the Lions have, Reiff may be good enough. Broyles is another toy for that passing game and is intriguing. But the real find could be Bentley, who doesn't have supreme speed but is really skilled. He could easily be the nickel corner right from the start.

[ Michael Silver's rankings: Gus Frerotte gives Kirk Cousins advice in Redskins quarterback race ]

Green Bay Packers
Picks: OLB Nick Perry, DT Jerel Worthy, CB Casey Hayward, DT Mike Daniels, DB Jerron McMillian, OLB Terrell Manning, OT Andrew Datko, QB B.J. Coleman
Grade: B
Analysis: The Packers addressed their obvious needs on defense by taking three well-regarded defenders right from the start and getting six defensive players overall. Perry is cut from a similar mold of Clay Mathews in terms of pass-rush ability, although he may not be quite as explosive. Worthy is a big body who can help against the run and give the team some vital depth. Finally, Hayward gives the Packers a developmental player to watch for a year before CB Charles Woodson makes the transition to safety.

Minnesota Vikings
Picks: OT Matt Kalil, SS Harrison Smith, CB Josh Robinson, WR Jarius Wright, TE Rhett Ellison, WR Greg Childs, CB Robert Blanton, K Blair Walsh, OLB Audie Cole, DE Trevor Guyton.
Grade: B+
Analysis: The Vikings did a good job of getting some value out of the No. 3 overall pick by convincing Cleveland to trade up one spot (Minnesota got three late-round picks in the process). Minnesota still got the player it wanted in Kalil, a guy who will help rebuild the left side of the line after the departure of Bryant McKinnie last season and then Steve Hutchinson this offseason. Kalil needs to get stronger, but that's not hard to accomplish. Smith is a terrific tackler and has better coverage skills than most people believe. Robinson has great upside. Both Smith and Robinson should play immediately.

[ Les Carpenter: NFL 'Die Hards' sit through all three days of the draft ]

NFC SOUTH

Atlanta Falcons
Picks: C Peter Konz, OT Lamar Holmes, FB Bradie Ewing, DE Jonathan Massaquoi, SS Charles Mitchell, DT Travian Robertson
Grade: B-
Analysis: The trade last year for Julio Jones left the Falcons without a first-round pick. Jones was solid last season but hardly good enough to justify giving Atlanta a great grade. However, the selection of Konz, who some people projected as a first-rounder, is a nice pickup, and Holmes is a solid prospect for the right side of the line. Still, the real impact of this draft will be measured by whether Jones becomes the star the Falcons expect. The trend is good, but the Falcons still didn't advance in the playoffs last season, so there was no net gain.

Carolina Panthers
Picks: ILB Luke Kuechly, G Amini Silatolu, DE Frank Alexander, WR Joe Adams, CB Josh Norman, P Brad Nortman, DB D.J. Campbell
Grade: B+

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Luke Kuechly (Getty)

Analysis: Inside linebackers aren't normally good picks in the first round, particularly when you're picking in the top 10. Not even Ray Lewis went that high. But Kuechly may be the rare exception. He is a great tackler who can roam sideline to sideline. He lacks great pass-rush skill, but some people believe he could develop that. Most important, he doesn't have to come off the field in passing situations. Silatolu is a terrific run-blocker and Alexander has an intriguing upside.

New Orleans Saints
Picks: DT Akiem Hicks, WR Nick Toon, DB Corey White, G Andrew Tiller, OT Marcel Jones
Grade: F
Analysis: The Saints traded their '12 first-round pick to get Mark Ingram last year. The jury is still out on Ingram – he was hurt most of the year and didn't do much to help the offense. Worse, there are some people who think he doesn't have the explosiveness to be great. On top of that, the Saints lost their second-round pick in the bounty scandal. That's a terrible start. Hicks and Toon are interesting, but they're going to have to be really impressive to help salvage this draft.

[ Related: NFL draft pick-by-pick analysis and prospect rankings ]

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Picks: SS Mark Barron, RB Doug Martin, OLB Lavonte David, ILB Najee Goode, CB Keith Tandy, RB Michael Smith, TE Drake Dunsmore
Grade: C
Analysis: The Bucs made a highly questionable move to drop from No. 5 overall pick to No. 7 and then got jumped by Dallas at No. 6 to take CB Morris Claiborne. The Bucs got Barron instead and said after the draft that Barron was the guy they wanted all along. OK, if that's true, there's ample reason to question the logic. Frankly, cornerbacks are simply a lot more valuable than strong safeties in the NFL. Furthermore, Barron is a true in-the-box safety, meaning that the Bucs are projecting his coverage ability. Yeah, Barron is a great player, but this is 2012, not 1994, when teams are throwing constantly. Barron has to be Troy Polamalu for this to pay off. As for the rest, Martin should be a huge upgrade and David fits nicely into the scheme.

NFC WEST

Arizona Cardinals
Picks: WR Michael Floyd, CB Jarnell Fleming, OT Bobby Massie, G Senio Kelemete, CB Justin Bethel, QB Ryan Lindley, OT Nate Potter
Grade: B+
Analysis: This is a really good value draft. The Cardinals waited to get Floyd at the perfect spot (No. 13 overall). Likewise, they did a good job to get Fleming, Massie, Kelemete and Lindley at least a round later (if not more) than a lot of people projected them. The selection of Floyd makes Arizona's offense much more explosive because now defenses won't be able to focus on WR Larry Fitzgerald as much. Plus, this helps make the job easier for QB Kevin Kolb, who is entering a critical season after an inconsistent 2011.

St. Louis Rams
Picks: DT Michael Brockers, WR Brian Quick, CB Janoris Jenkins, RB Isaiah Pead, CB Trumaine Johnson, WR Chris Givens, G Rokevious Watkins, K Greg Zuerlein, LB Aaron Brown, RB Daryl Richardson
Grade: A-

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Brian Quick (Getty)

Analysis: It's not often anymore than you can turn any pick, even a No. 2 overall pick, into six draft choices, including three first-rounders and two seconds. That's just what the Rams did this year, and they still have two more first-rounders to use in the future after trading away the rights to QB Robert Griffin III and then working deals with a total of three teams. While there is still concern that the Rams haven't done enough to help QB Sam Bradford by getting him more receivers, the Rams believe Quick will be great. Plus, the Rams now have a representative secondary with the likes of Jenkins, Johnson and veteran free agent Cortland Finnegan. On top of all that, they got Brockers, a tough, hard-nosed defensive tackle. While not explosive, Brockers will set the table for others.

San Francisco 49ers
Picks: WR A.J. Jenkins, RB LaMichael James, G Joe Looney, OLB Darius Fleming, FS Trenton Robinson, OT Jason Slowey, DE Cam Johnson
Grade: B
Analysis: It's easy to sit back and question what the 49ers were doing in taking Jenkins and James. Jenkins was a stretch in the first round and particularly so after the team signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in the offseason. As for James, the 49ers already have speed back Kendall Hunter on the roster. Still, you have to admire the thinking by coach Jim Harbaugh. Instead of standing pat on offense after a few free-agent signings, Harbaugh continued to build his offense, smartly understanding that the NFL is still an offense-first league during the regular season. Jenkins and James give the 49ers two more threats, and Jenkins is insurance against a Moss implosion.

[ Rams' war room: Roll dice on Janoris Jenkin | Select next T.O. ]

Seattle Seahawks
Picks: OLB Bruce Irvin, ILB Bobby Wagner, QB Russell Wilson, RB Robert Turbin, DT Jaye Howard, LB Korey Toomer, CB Jeremy Lane, SS Winston Guy Jr., DT J.R. Sweezy, DE Greg Scruggs
Grade: D-
Analysis: I have a great deal of respect for the work of John Schneider, but I don't understand this draft. Of eight teams (five of which drafted after the Seahawks) that were surveyed, none graded Irvin as a first-round pick. Yes, he has talent, and he could become great. He also might be a guy who burns out in two years because there are plenty of people who question his dedication. After that, the Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Wilson even though the history of QBs under 6-foot is poor, to say the least. You don't spend a third-round pick on a guy who'll be lucky to be Seneca Wallace. You also don't do that after signing Matt Flynn as a free agent. The Seahawks are no closer to solving the QB situation now than they were before 2011.

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